St. Xavier holds off Badin in battle of the Fleming brothers

HAMILTON — CJ Fleming gave a nod to his older brother Ryan Fleming from across the scorer’s table as they were getting ready to embark in a brief pre-game conversation.

There were smiles, a couple laughs and a wealth of basketball knowledge being relayed back and forth by the two prep coaches who were less than 10 years out of graduating college.

Badin High School’s Mulcahey Gym had long been packed by a crowd waiting in anticipation for Tuesday night’s varsity boys hoops showcase that involved programs coached by the Fleming siblings.

CJ is at Badin, and Ryan is at St. Xavier — two standout La Salle graduates who competed in college.

What transpired was an instant classic.

Junior Donovan Waleskowski scored a game-high 21 points, and the Bombers held off a Badin comeback to secure a 64-56 victory.

“This was cool. It was cool,” said 25-year-old CJ, who this past March took on his first head coach role at Badin. “Ryan and I talked before the game. We prepared for this like it was any other game. Usually, we call each other and talk about what this team is doing and what that team is doing.

“It felt weird, too, though. I’m like ‘Hey, can I get your film?’” CJ added with a chuckle. “It is special. I always want to see him win, and he wants to see me win. But tonight, I wanted to see him lose, and he wanted to see me lose.

“I was wearing my green and white with pride. Other nights, I’ll be cheering for blue.”

Former longtime La Salle mentor Dan Fleming and his wife Lissa cheered from the stands while their sons coached the competitive Greater Catholic League crossover contest.

“It’s been harder on my wife than anything,” Dan said. “But it was just enjoyable to see both of them out there doing what they really enjoy and have a passion for. It was obviously a very competitive game. It got off to a slow start for Badin, but they adjusted. They gave St. X all they could.

“Somebody’s going to win, and somebody’s going to lose. But as a parent, and as a former coach, it was very enjoyable to watch them and see them doing their thing.”

Both Fleming brothers threw their arms up in perfect unison more than once Tuesday, and their vocal chirps from the bench matched each other from start to finish.

St. Xavier stormed out to a 10-0 lead before Badin put its first points on the scoreboard when Carson Lowe hit a 3-pointer at the 2:40 mark of the first quarter.

The Rams continued to hang around, which Ryan — who coached at Summit Country Day before accepting the job with the Bombers this past May — came to expect.

“It’s part of why I’m so happy that he’s at this place,” Ryan, 31, said of his brother. “When I was at Summit, we played (Badin) three times, and every single time it was an absolute battle of them just pushing us all over the gym. I knew that this was going to be a good fit for CJ. ... This place is going to be much better because of CJ.”

“I told my guys, and I may be a little bit biased, but I truly believe that in late January, February that St. X is going to be one of the best teams and one of the best well-coached teams in the city,” CJ chimed in. “I attest — they are huge. We have a couple big guys, too, and they fought their butts off.”

Ryan said while the hype was primarily focused on him and his brother, he felt there should be no reason to take the spotlight away from the student-athletes.

“This was a game I personally was really not looking forward to,” Ryan said. “There’s a big deal in the media about it. It makes it more about CJ and I and less about the players — who it’s supposed to be about. I know that’s the nature of it.”

Down the stretch, it was St. Xavier’s free throw shooting that took center stage. Waleskowski hit a clutch 3-pointer, and 11 of 14 free throws in the final period negated Badin’s 20-13 third-quarter surge.

Junior Jacob Wassler had 17 points for the Bombers, who moved to 6-2.

Badin senior Grant Wissman, who drained a trey at the third-quarter buzzer to pull it to within 42-39, scored 14 of his 16 points on the second half and finished with 11 rebounds. Cooper Ollis had 13 points for the Rams, who slipped to 2-4.

“We’re going to continue to use games in order for us to get better for tomorrow,” CJ said. “From the other side of things, I know that Ryan is doing exactly that, too.”

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